Portland Jewish Academy is a beneficiary agency of the Jewish Federation of Greater Portland and is proud of our partnership with them in strengthening our local Jewish community as well as the global community.

Grades 3-5 Curriculum

Third through fifth grade is a time of growing independence, skill acquisition, and abstract thinking. At PJA, we support the natural curiosity of students in these grades through an integrated curriculum that incorporate STEAM (science, technology, engineering, art, and mathematics) and social studies skills and concepts. Through authentic explorations and making use of the resources of the Learning Commons and Makerspace, and through their work in art and music classes, students develop the self-confidence and research, problem-solving, and engineering skills for academic success in the years to follow.

Our third through fifth grade curriculum nurtures a love of reading and helps students develop comprehension strategies that support their learning across subject areas. In mathematics, students deal with increasingly larger numbers, become more fluent in the basic operations, and develop more efficient strategies for problem-solving and mathematical reasoning. As their Hebrew listening and speaking vocabulary grow, so does their ability to read and write in Hebrew. Each year, students develop a deeper understanding of the major Jewish holy days and learn more of the prayers associated with those holy days and of the morning, afternoon and Shabbat services. They share their learning with a wider audience in plays, STEAM day lessons and other presentations, and serve as buddies to students in younger grades.


Language and Literacy

We offer a balanced language arts program centered around reading, writing, and vocabulary development. Reading is taught primarily through literature and includes independent reading selections, whole-class and small group author and genre study, and teacher read-alouds. Students explore different modes of writing, including research, expository, narrative, imaginative, and persuasive writing, and attention is given in each grade to the application of writing conventions. Through PJA’s language arts program, students become members of a reading and writing community, in which creative expression and constructive criticism are valued and encouraged.

Third Grade

Students learn to become active, thoughtful readers who can construct meaning from the text by searching for personal and text connections, asking questions, making predictions, drawing inferences, and distinguishing important ideas from detail. Class novels and selections from Junior Great Books are chosen for the richness of their content and language, and for the appropriate reading level of the students. Third graders learn D’Nealian Cursive and keyboarding skills and develop their written expression through research, journal, expository, imaginative, and other modes of writing. Special projects include researching and presenting the biography of a famous person and writing an autobiography.

Fourth Grade

A central theme explored in fourth grade is the power of words: the idea that language is a tool that allows us to express emotion, transmit culture, and construct deeper meaning. The fourth grade literature program exposes students to a variety of authors, styles, and genres. Using short stories, novels, and non-fiction text, students develop comprehension skills and abstract thinking, and practice reading for information. Students have opportunities to write using different modes of expression and styles, and through mini-lessons each week, they examine spelling patterns, word usage, grammar, and editing and proofreading skills.

Fifth Grade

Fifth graders begin the year with a close reading of the novel Tuck Everlasting and throughout the year build on the literary analysis skills emphasized during that study. Students become independent readers who can respond to literature in a variety of meaningful ways. They work towards recognizing and developing the traits of effective writing: rich content, organization, fluency, correct conventions, clear voice, and interesting word choice. Students learn to define, recognize, and use descriptive and figurative language, including similes, metaphors, personification, and alliteration. They employ a variety of modes and forms, including personal narrative, expository and persuasive writing, poetry, and letter writing.


Our active, problem-solving based math program facilitates the development of children’s mathematical thinking and reasoning abilities. Students become increasingly fluent with number facts and are able to compute with increasingly larger numbers. Authentic problem solving is emphasized as students discover a variety of approaches and strategies and look at different ways to collect, display, and analyze data. They engage actively, using concrete materials and appropriate technology to develop a greater understanding of mathematical concepts. Students are regularly assessed so that their math work is targeted towards individualized goals. We combine the interactive software and student journals of Everyday Mathematics, with other published and teacher-made materials.

Third Grade

Third grade students solidify their addition and subtraction skills and work towards the mastery of multiplication and division facts. Using manipulatives and real applications, they explore fractions, decimals, and percents. Other third grade topics include statistics and probability, geometry, measurement, graphing, time, money, problem solving, place value, patterns and sequencing.

Fourth Grade

In fourth grade, students further develop their mastery of the basic operations with work on multi-digit addition and subtraction, multiplication, and division. They work with decimals, fractions, and percents, understanding the relationship between them, working with mixed numbers and improper fractions, and adding and subtracting fractions. Students explore number theory and numeration by examining landmark numbers, patterns, and powers of 10. Other fourth grade topics include data collection and analysis, probability, and 2-D and 3-D geometry.

Fifth Grade

Areas of focus in fifth grade include number/numeration, operations/computation, data/chance, geometry, measurement, and patterns/functions/algebraic notation. Students work with whole numbers, fractions, and decimals with an emphasis on applied problem solving techniques. Students collect, display, and analyze data in a variety of ways, applying their math skills to work in science and social studies.


Students strengthen and deepen their ability to communicate in all forms of Hebrew. Their growing vocabulary, stronger comprehension skills, attention to grammatical structures and patterns, and greater fluency allows students to demonstrate proficiency with more complexity and creativity. Through the use of Hebrew language and literacy students learn content.

Third Grade

Third graders build on the Hebrew skills they acquired in second grade, developing greater fluency with spoken Hebrew and stronger decoding skills. Students’ aural and text comprehension continue to grow through a variety of classroom activities, and they become increasingly able to write in Hebrew.

Fourth Grade

In fourth grade, students continue to be actively engaged in Hebrew communication, with daily class discussions, games, and song. With a larger Hebrew vocabulary and stronger grammatical skills, fourth graders focus on literature and written expression.

Fifth Grade

The fifth grade Hebrew program is a culmination of all the work students have done in lower school developing strong reading, writing, and speaking skills. The primary text contains a collection of Hebrew stories, poems, and fables on topics of Judaic interest. Students attend closely to grammatical structures and patterns as they consider the best ways to communicate increasingly complex ideas and information.

Jewish Studies

Building on the basic knowledge and skills in the Jewish studies subjects of Torah, Hagim (holy days), and Tefillah (prayer), students deepen their learning by looking at key themes and concepts including the school’s middot, (Jewish values). Students’ learning expands to include additional units of study. Study of (original) primary texts allows for deeper exploration. Students develop a better understanding of text while making personal connections and identifying the relevance of textual themes and middot (values) to their own lives.

Third Grade

In third grade, students study the Book of Exodus, with an emphasis on how slavery shaped the Jewish people, the Jewish people’s relationship to Moshe and G’d, and the exodus from Egypt. During an in-depth study of the synagogue and in conjunction with their study of Portland and work with Architects in the School, students visit synagogues throughout the city and create synagogue models. They create their own Mezuzot as part of a unit on Sofer Stam, the scribe of the Torah, mezuzah and tefillin scrolls.

Fourth Grade

Fourth grade Torah study focuses on Shemot (the Book of Numbers). Students examine the concept of statehood and the process by which a democratic society finds balance and compromise, and they apply that understanding to a study of the founders, foundation, and creation of the State of Israel. Fourth grade students lead a Passover Seder and continue to develop their understanding of Tefillah.

Fifth Grade

Through deep, focused Torah study, the current Torah portion is read and discussed each week in fifth grade, and students each take responsibility for planning a dvar Torah presentation. Throughout both general and Jewish studies, fifth graders consider life and natural cycles, focusing in their Jewish Studies class on the ways Judaism commemorates birth, b’nei mitzvah, marriage, and death. Working with both their general studies and Jewish studies teachers, fifth grade students study the immigration stories of family members and the role artifacts play in families’ lives. This study culminates in the preparation for a student exhibition and presentation, “A Journey through Generations” at the Oregon Jewish Museum.

Social Studies

Third Grade

While focusing on their own city, Portland, third grade students explore the essential questions “Where are we in the world? “What makes a community a community?” and “How and why do cities grow.” Students work with an architect to better understand city infrastructure, take walking, bridge, and transportation tours of Portland, build bridges, and perform a musical production called "In Portland."

Fourth Grade

Fourth grade students build on their third grade exploration of Portland to study their state and surrounding environs. Focusing on the central idea that geographical location and available resources shape a culture, students begin the year with a cross study of North American native cultures. They build traditional native structures, develop research and presentation skills, and make traditional masks. As part of their study of Lewis and Clark and the Corps of Discovery, students develop an understanding of the internal and external forces that motivate individuals to find new lands. They participate in simulations and develop journal writing skills.

Fifth Grade

The general content area for fifth grade study is U.S. History, with a focus on Colonial America, the events leading to the American Revolution, freedom documents, and immigration. Through a project-based approach, students learn about and analyze the issues and influences that led to these historical events, trends, and documents. Using a pod-cast format, fifth grade students prepare and present News Team reports, focused on local, national, and international news and bring discussions of current events into the classroom. Students are always encouraged to make connections between current and historical events.


Third Grade

In conjunction with their study of Portland and city infrastructure, third grade students develop an understanding of engineering and explore the characteristics of sound structures as they build bridges. Using a science workshop approach, students apply the scientific process as they design and conduct experiments using electricity.

Fourth Grade

Fourth grade science focuses on magnetism, plate tectonics, and methods of science. Students spend several weeks learning about the magnetic force, magnetic poles, the Earth as a magnet, and how magnets are used in everyday life. This study includes several hands-on labs, scientific readings, and the construction of an electromagnet.

Fifth Grade

Fifth graders build on their fourth-grade foundation in the methods of science, with a focus on scientific measurement and matter. Through a four-day trip to an outdoor learning center, students explore habitats and interrelationships; biodiversity, change and adaptation; and develop an understanding of environmental stewardship. During a focused study of the moon, students study moon phases; eclipses; gravitational pull and tides; and lunar exploration. They combine this study of astronomy with creative writing and visual arts to prepare their own moon journals.


Art, music, PE, and time in the Learning Commons and Makerspace are central to the lower school experience. All students in kindergarten – fifth grade have two periods each week of PE and a weekly art, music, and library class. In addition to these regularly scheduled “specials,” students and classroom teachers work collaboratively throughout the school year with our school librarian, maker educators, and art and music teachers on integrated projects.


PJA has two art studios – one designed specifically for the early childhood years and the other for use by students in grades 1-8. Students in grades K-5 have an hour-long art class each week. Classes often begin with a mini lesson in which students are introduced to different media and tools or learn about artists and artistic style, after which students explore and create on their own or in collaboration with a partner. As students go through the lower school years, they devote increasingly longer time creating “WOW” projects: “wonderful original works” of their own design and development. Regularly scheduled “gallery walks” allow students to present their WOW projects and learn about the inspiration and process by which others’ works came about. Our art teachers also work in collaboration with students and classroom teachers on the development of integrated projects.

Library/Learning Commons

The Learning Commons is a hub of activity, a place where students and teachers work together in small groups, explore books, and discover new software and programs to enhance their learning. Students in grades K-5 meet weekly with our safranit (librarian) to revisit favorite stories, be introduced to new books, and develop library and research skills. Each grade has a clearly articulated, developmentally appropriate library curriculum that complements class literature and research studies. Third, fourth and fifth grade students also have dedicated time in the Learning Commons for exploring different aspects of computer programming. Throughout the year, students and teachers work collaboratively with our librarian and technology integration specialist on the development of integrated projects.


PJA’s Music Studio is a joyful, active space in which students sing, learn to play instruments, and integrate movement and sound. Students in grades K-5 have a weekly music class in which music theory and appreciation are taught, along with opportunities to learn new songs and build a repertoire of Jewish and Hebrew music, and other folk songs. In addition to music class, our music teacher works closely with our lower school faculty to integrate music into classroom content. At every grade level there is a ‘musical’ performance based on a unit of study. These performances range from full stage productions to in class performances. In many cases, students work along with the music teacher and their classroom teachers to write lyrics to accompany these performances.


The Makerspace is a vibrant center of exploration and collaboration in which students learn by doing. In the Makerspace, students’ understanding of classroom content is enhanced through hands-on STEAM (science, technology, engineering, art, math) learning. Tools in the Makerspace include hammers and drills, a sewing machine, a Glowforge laser cutter, a 3-D printer, and more. Materials include everything from fabric and cardboard to electronics and pine cones. Students receive direct instruction in the use of different tools and have opportunities to use their imaginations and develop their proficiency with tools by tinkering. Maker educators collaborate with classroom teachers to challenge students with open-ended, project and problem-based learning opportunities in which students typically direct their own learning. Among the student-designed and constructed projects that have grown in the Makerspace have been an interactive aquarium, mikdash (sanctuary), and solar powered grilled cheese cookers.

Physical Education

The goal of our PE program is for students to be active and have fun! Classes are structured around non-competitive games that build endurance, cooperation, and life-long skills. PE is part of the wellness program that is embedded in curriculum and classroom routines such as movement breaks, yoga and mindfulness activities, and cooking and gardening projects.

Integrated Units

Students explore major themes about the world in which they live through interdisciplinary units of study that incorporate STEAM (science, technology, engineering, art, and mathematics) and social studies skills and concepts.

Third Grade

The primary focus of study in third grade is the history, geography, and infrastructure of Portland. Through fiction and nonfiction readings, interviews and oral history, and walking tours through neighborhoods and across bridges, students explore such essential questions as how and why cities grow, how the impact of weather-related hazards can be reduced, and how structures withstand the forces of tension and compression. They apply their growing understanding to develop the “postcards” that provide the script, sights, and sounds of a multi-media production called “Postcards from Portland” that they present to the greater community.

Fourth Grade

In fourth grade, students broaden their perspective to explore the history, geography, social, and political changes in Oregon. They look at the relationship between resources and culture through a cross-study of North American native cultures, and they examine the internal and external forces that motivate individuals to find new lands as they study Lewis and Clark and the Corps of Discovery and life on the Oregon Trail. Students deepen their understanding of the different geographic regions of the state through investigations of plate tectonics and their relationship to earthquakes and volcanoes. Through field trips and work in the Makerspace and Science Lab, students explore different forms of energy and the benefits and negative effects of different sources of power.

Fifth Grade

Throughout their studies in fifth grade, students discover many ways to approach the overarching themes of circles/cycles and sustainability. They explore these themes through the lens of literature, ecology, family history, and physical science as they delve deeper into the critical reading of novels and poetry, and explore water cycles and the relationship between the earth and moon. Students work closely with our school librarian and maker educators, as well as art and music specialists as they design and create water filters, space suits, and a museum to showcase objects and stories carried by their families.

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